Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘The Holocaust’

Guernica 80 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th April, 2017

GuernicaEighty years ago today, German planes bombed the Basque town of Guernica in support of General Franco’s fascist forces in the Spanish civil war. For the Nazis, it was an experiment: to see if Blitzkrieg would work. And it did, incinerating not only the buildings but a sizable part of the defenceless population in a firestorm. It would be another two years before the start of the Second World War (which Spain basically sat out), but the Guernica atrocity served as a warning to Europe of what was to come. Hitler’s Germany would eventually be defeated, after killing directly or indirectly many millions of people, including the six million Jews as well as other minorities who perished in the Holocaust. But fascism itself was not defeated; in continued in Spain until Franco’s death in the mid-1970s, in Portugal and for a while in Greece. The restoration of functioning democracy enabled these southern European states integrate into what has become the European Union, but military dictatorships continued to flourish in Central and South America and parts of Africa. Most of those countries are now also multi-party democracies. But one should not be lulled into a false sense of security that the monster of fascism has been slain. It is like a virus that can lie undetected for years before taking hold of the body politic once more. The rise of nationalism in many parts of Europe is an unnerving warning that people can be talked into supporting demagogues, even when they are spouting lies. Hungary is particularly worrying, but it is not alone. And just as the Nazis scapegoated Jews for the economic ills of the Weimar Republic so now populist politicians on both sides of the English Channel are blaming refugees, Muslims and sometimes foreigners in general for their societies’ shortcomings. Decent people need to speak out about this. And as we commemorate the horrors of Guernica we should remember that it is not just a lesson from the past but a warning about a possible future.

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Parallel Lines

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th April, 2014

Peter LantosParallel LinesSo much has been written about the Holocaust that one might be forgiven in thinking that nothing new could be said about that monstrous period of inhumanity. But every so often a book comes along that proves that the last word has not been spoken. Such is Peter Lantos’s Parallel Lines (Arcadia Books, £9.99). Originally published in 2007, it has justly been repeatedly reprinted in paperback for the benefit of new readers. The sub-title of the book, “A Journey from Childhood to Belsen”, highlights a central strand of the narrative of Lantos’s memoir, but as well as the infant boy’s attempts to make sense of what was happening to him as his parents and he were plucked from their previously rather comfortable existence in the small Hungarian town of Makó, being sent first to a Jewish ghetto and then on to Bergen-Belsen (where his father perished), the story also sees the adult Lantos retracing steps, digging in archives, interviewing people to try to fit together pieces of the jigsaw that had just become a faded memory. There is ample evidence of brutality and suffering, as well as the wickedness of the Nazis, their Hungarian collaborators, and also “ordinary” people who took advantage of the Jews’ dispossession to hep themselves to property both large and small. Salvation for the boy and his mother came when an American unit rescued them from another train transportation away from Belsen that would almost certainly otherwise have taken them to their death. But their return to Makó turned out to be a reason for more trials and tribulation, as the Russians helped install an unforgiving Communist regime which treated them as class enemies. Lantos was very fortunate in being able to get out to pursue higher medical studies in England, which would eventually lead to a new life as a British citizen and an acclaimed writer, as well as distinguished in his medical profession. What is truly remarkable about Parallel Lines, however, is not just its moving portrayal of triumph over adversity but above all the self-evident humanity of the author, his refusal to hate, even his lively sense of humour. For though there is so much misery in the telling there are also moments that make one laugh out loud. A wonderful and memorable book, no matter how many other accounts of the Holocaust one has read.

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